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Tour de Romandie - PT
Switzerland, April 26-May 1, 2005
By Anthony Tan in Vevey, Switzerland
The final lead-up race to the Giro d'Italia, an early indication of who will be where at the Tour de France, and an extremely hard-fought and prestigious race in itself, the Tour de Romandie is significant for a number of reasons.
2005 marks the 59th edition of Romandie, so named because its entire 656 kilometre parcours is held in the French-speaking part of Switzerland, German and Italian being the country's two other secteurs. While distances are not demanding in itself - the longest being the second stage around Fleurier, measuring 171.9 kilometres - the same can't be said of the race profile, which boasts a total 7,985 metres of climbing.
At 1605 Tuesday afternoon (yes, the Swiss are rather precise with their timing), the first of 160 riders from 20 ProTour teams will test himself against the clock in a 3.4km prologue held in the streets of Geneva. Last year, it was no surprise to see previous world individual pursuit champion Bradley McGee do better than the rest, and the 29 year-old Sydneysider will be back to try and do it again on April 26.
Compared to the rest of the race, the first stage held around Avenches in the northern part of Romandy is very tame indeed: just two Cat. 3 climbs in 166.9 kilometres is very much a 'calm before the storm' style stage. Stage 2 is a bit more like it, with two Cat. 2s and the Cat. 1 to Les Sagnettes, but given their placement on the race route, it's likely to be another stage for the escape-artists - maybe one for CSC's Frank Schleck, Iles Baleares' Unai Osa, Quick.Step's José Antonio Pecharroman, Cofidis' David Moncoutie, Rabobank's Thomas Dekker, or Credit Agricole's Nicolas Vogondy.
Stage 3 begins outside the world HQ for the UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale) in Aigle, and it looks like hard-man Hein Verbruggen's had something to do with it. Three Cat. 1 climbs - all in the space of less than 50 clicks - with the third marking the stage finish atop the ski-town of Anzère, 1,526 metres above sea-level, where high-altitude cow-fighting happens to be a popular pastime for these people of the Canton du Valais.
While less vicious on paper (and maybe high-altitude cow-fighting), the fourth stage which begins in Châtel-St-Denis is in fact the stage with the greatest amount of vertical climbing; the bumpy 146.9km route is again tailor-made for the breakaway specialists - but only if the previous day's sufferfest didn't kill their legs or ambitions.
And if anyone thought the race was over, the final stage in the Olympic capital of Lausanne says it's not. The tough time test measures only 20.4 kilometres in length, but the variation in parcours makes it one for neither that flat or climbing TT specialist.
With 2003/04 champ Tyler Hamilton serving a two-year suspension for blood doping, who will take his place on this year's honour roll?
The American's former team-mates from Phonak, Alexandre Moos and Oscar Pereiro, will certainly give it a go. The rest? Take your pick from: Aïtor Gonzalez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Dario Cioni and recent Vuelta a Aragon winner Stefano Garzelli (Liquigas-Bianchi), 2001/02 winner Dario Frigo (Fassa Bortolo), Bradley McGee (Française des Jeux), Carlos Sastre (Team CSC), 2000 winner Paolo Savoldelli, Manuel Beltran and Yaroslav Popovych (Discovery Channel), Georg Totschnig (Gerolsteiner), José Antonio Pecharroman (Quick.Step), David Moncoutie (Cofidis), Denis Menchov (Rabobank), last year's runner-up Fabian Jeker (Saunier Duval), Cadel Evans (Davitamon-Lotto, 3rd in 2002), 2004 Giro winner Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Cafitta), and Joseba Beloki, Jörg Jaksche & Alberto Contador (Liberty Seguros).
Garzelli & Cioni lead Liquigas in Romandie
As with many teams scheduled to ride the Giro d'Italia, Italian ProTour team Liquigas-Bianchi will use the upcoming Tour de Romandie as their final tune-up event before the race begins in Reggio Calabria on Saturday, May 7. Stefano Garzelli and Dario Cioni have been appointed as the team's captains in the Swiss race, who will also be leaders for the Giro, along with Mario Cipollini and Danilo Di Luca.
"The 'Romandia' has always been an important test to value the riders' condition before the Giro," said team manager Roberto Amadio. "It will be the very first test both for Garzelli and Cioni; I believe they are well motivated, especially Stefano, who may try to win a stage as well."
According to a statement from the team, 31 year-old Garzelli and winner of the Giro in 2000, has been training alone, while 30 year-old ex-mountain biker Cioni raced yesterday's Giro dell'Appennino and will reconnoitre the Giro's 31 kilometre Turin time trial today, which comes on the third last day could prove decisive with the inclusion of the Colle di Superga climb.
Team roster: Michael Albasini, Patrick Calcagni, Dario Cioni, Daniele
Colli, Stefano Garzelli, Oscar Mason, Vladimir Miholjevic, Marco Milesi
Tour de Romandie news
Handover for Liberty Seguros
For many riders the Tour of Romandie, which runs from today to May 1, is a final warm-up for the Giro d'Italia, but for the Liberty Seguros team it represents a handover event. Most of Liberty Seguros' riders at Romandie will take a break after May 1, concluding their spring campaign, except for one: Joseba Beloki will go on to the Giro.
Liberty directeur sportif Manolo Saiz expects a "complicated" tour. "We will come up against everyone who is coming into better form for the Giro, while we are suffering from weariness at the end of the first [racing] cycle, with our sights already on the Tour de France," he said.
Saiz believes the Giro will be decided in the second and third weeks, which is why he is not sending his Giro team to Romandie. Instead, he expects they will ride themselves into form in the Giro's first week after slightly less preparation.
For Beloki, it's his second attempt this year at a comeback, after he dropped out of the Vuelta a Murcia and Tirreno-Adriatico with respiratory infections. Beloki has just completed four days of training in the Pyrenees but says he is "calm" and has no aspirations at Romandie beyond, "helping my team-mates, because the team is good and can do important things. My aims are beyond, in the Giro d'Italia."
Liberty Seguros for Tour de Romandie: Joseba Beloki, Alberto Contador, David Etxebarria, Roberto Heras, Jörg Jaksche, Sergio Paulinho, Marcos Serrano and Ángel Vicioso.
Guerini and Klier head T-Mobile
T-Mobile directeur sportif Frans van Looy says the team has selected "a good blend of young and experienced riders" for the Tour de Romandie, headed by veteran Italian Giuseppe Guerini and Andreas Klier. Guerini is fine-tuning his form ahead of a possible start in the Giro d'Italia, while Klier is on the comeback trail after falling at Gent-Wevelgem and finishing second three days before at the Tour of Flanders.
Van Looy thinks Romandie will be more competitive than ever this year. "The race has clearly profited from its ProTour status and its proximity to the Giro, in that the race has rarely attracted as strong a field as this year," he said. "For that reason, it is not going to be easy to grab stage wins, but we might just cause the odd surprise."
T-Mobile hopes that the surprises will start with the prologue, where Olaf Pollack is looking to improve on his 2004 second place behind La Francaise des Jeux's Brad McGee. But as well as McGee, Pollack will also have to beat 2005 Tour de France prologue winner Fabian Cancellara (Fassa Bartolo).
After a couple of relatively flat stages, the race hits the mountains on Friday and Van Looy expects this stage, with three cat 1 climbs, will determine the outcome. "This stage is a real killer," he says.
T-Mobile for Tour de Romandie: Giuseppe Guerini, Torsten Hiekmann, Andreas Klier, Bernhard Kohl, André Korff, Olaf Pollack, Jan Schaffrath, and Sergey Yakovlev.
Moreni back for Quick Step
The champion of Italy, Cristian Moreni will return to racing for Quick Step at the Tour de Romandie after a break forced by a knee injury he sustained in a crash at Milan San Remo back in March. "Romandie will be a good test to return competitive for the Giro," said Moreni in a team statement. "In this race I hope to find again a good feeling and the race rhythm after 20 days of training at home. I would like to honor the [Italian champion's] 'tricolore Jersey' with a good performance during the Giro."
Quick Step for Tour de Romandie: Davide Bramati, Mads Christensen, Ad Engels, José Antonio Garrido, Cristian Moreni, Sebastien Rosseler, Patrik Sinkewitz, Jurgen Van Goolen.
Giro warm-up for Cunego
Lampre-Caffita's Damiano Cunego will also be using the Tour de Romandie to warm up for his first big target of the year: a repeat victory in the Giro d'Italia. Team manager Giuseppe Martinelli says Cunego's ninth place in Liège-Bastogne-Liège bodes well. "Damiano's result at Liège-Bastogne-Liège is great, thinking about the Giro but also about future: yesterday he has understood that he is able to win this race," said Martinelli.
Lampre-Caffita for Tour de Romandie: Alessandro Ballan, Damiano Cunego, Paolo Fornaciari, Gerrit Glomser, David Loosli, Evgeni Petrov, Marius Sabaliauskas, Alessandro Spezialetti.